Fulton Board of Administrators reassigned as Georgia critiques its elections

ATLANTA (AP) – Commissioners in Fulton County have selected a former Atlanta City Council president to head their electoral committee while a state panel reviews how elections are conducted in Georgia’s most populous county.

The Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to appoint Cathy Woolard to chair the five-member County Board of Registration and Elections. Her nomination by the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Robb Pitts, was successful, despite Foreign Secretary Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s chief electoral officer, condemning the election.

Raffensperger, a Republican facing a major challenge next year, protested what he called an “obviously political appointment” because Woolard had registered earlier this year as a lobbyist for Fair Fight Action, a group led by Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who narrowly ran the races for Republican Governor Brian Kemp in 2018. Although Abrams has not said she will run, it is widely expected that she will challenge Kemp to a rematch next year.

“Fulton County needs to think twice before appointing someone to be bought and paid by Stacey Abrams to run elections in Fulton County,” Raffensperger said in a press release Tuesday. He said it would “do incredible damage to the already terrible reputation Fulton has for running elections”.

Raffensperger said in the press release that if Woolard is in charge, he would seek the removal of the entire district electoral committee by invoking a provision in Georgia’s new electoral law.

Pitts, who has bargained many times with the secretary of state, said Woolard was a long-time official who was well qualified for the role. He accused Raffensperger of “playing political games”.

“I wish we had a secretary of state who cares about Fulton County’s voters as much as he does about winning his upcoming primary, but unfortunately we don’t,” said Pitts. “Fortunately, here in Fulton County we now have Ms. Woolard to fill the void where his leadership has failed.”

Commissioner Lee Morris, a Republican, said he asked Woolard about her work for Fair Fight and she said she did not actually lobby for the group, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“All she really did was introduce a few people from here to there,” said Morris.

Fulton County, home to about 11% of the state’s electorate, is a Democratic stronghold that encompasses most of the city of Atlanta. It has a long history of electoral problems and has been a consistent target for Republicans. After the district’s primary elections were overshadowed by problems last year, an independent observer was appointed as part of a consent order with the state election committee.

This observer observed the Fulton County’s election process from October through January and wrote that he saw “bad trials” and “systemic disorganization” but found no “illegality, fraud or willful misconduct.”

Former President Donald Trump has focused on Fulton County after narrowly losing Georgia in the November general election, claiming without evidence that fraud in the county contributed to President Joe Biden’s victory. He also heavily criticized Raffensperger for failing to act to undo his loss and supported US MP Jody Hice, who Raffensperger will challenge next year in the Republican primary.

The state electoral board set up a three-person review panel last month to examine Fulton County’s handling of elections after receiving inquiries from Republican lawmakers representing the county. The legislature used a controversial provision of the state’s comprehensive new electoral law that provides a way for the state to take over elections in a county.

In addition to serving on the Atlanta City Council, Woolard ran unsuccessfully for Atlanta Mayor four years ago and served on the Georgia Electoral College delegation in December. She thanked Pitts and other commissioners for their assistance after they were selected for the job.

“My experience as a candidate and as chairman of the Atlanta City Council gives me perspective and context for the challenges we face as voters and officials in conducting safe and fair elections,” Woolard tweeted. “I’m looking forward to the start”

The Fulton County’s electoral committee consists of two Democrats, two Republicans, and a chairman appointed by the Board of Commissioners.

During a press conference Thursday, Raffensperger reiterated his refusal to allow Woolard to take over the helm of the Fulton County’s electoral committee. One of his senior deputies, Gabriel Sterling, also raised concerns before Woolard was selected, but after the commission’s vote took a more measured approach to confirm Woolard as chair of the electoral committee.

“I think the optics will fuel potential conspiracies,” tweeted Sterling on Wednesday night. “But I also think she is smart, hardworking and hopefully will do everything possible to show a balanced approach to allay some fears.”

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